Sitting in a Penny Kittle Workshop today, I learned of reaching readers and returning the joy of reading to them. She spoke of seniors who had read little, if any, books in their high school years. As she shared her journey towards joyful reading with those students, several people flashed through my thoughts.
First, I imagined my 4th graders. I saw them huddled in the hallway with coveted books in their hands. I heard them sharing their favorite parts with their friends during silent reading time because they just couldn't wait for sharing time. I thought of them in eight years, as seniors, would they still have that passion and zeal for their reading? Would they still believe they are readers? How do I support them with strategies for a life filled with reading beyond the 4th grade?
Then, I imagined my own daughter. She began her school journey this year. I could compare her to a sponge. She looks for words, letters, and names everywhere. The chip bag. The tag on her jeans. A magazine. Will her passion for reading and learning waiver as she continues on through school? Will the joy of discovery and reading a story cease to be? How do I support her with strategies for a life filled with reading if her teachers force her into books she has not chosen?
Lastly, I imagined myself years ago. I remembered my high school English classes. I remembered the exact book that hooked me. I remembered how I felt when my friends could read book after book, and how I covered up my non-reading life. I remembered the year that I really read books joyfully. It wasn't a year when my teacher opened up the library shelves and said pick what you want. It was the year that I lived abroad, and books became a safe haven. I could read and imagine myself back home in the States. I could read and feel the family love that I was so missing. I could read and forget how lonely I was. Those reading experiences changed how I viewed myself as a reader. I could read books - long, difficult books, and that's when I became a reader.
When I reflected on my own reading journey, I wondered how different it could have been. Given the right book, given the right teacher, given the right encouraging friends.... I could have been a reader a lot sooner in my life. Then, I wondered about my 4th graders and my daughter. Will they have to leave the country and feel lonely to actually appreciate the power of a book? Will a teacher change how they view themselves as readers right now? Will a class requirement suck their joy of reading from them? What if they lose that joy, how will they remember their childhood passion and zeal for reading?
Such tough questions. I do know this... books pull kids in and keep them reading. When I hand over a great book to my 4th graders, I know that book will stay with them beyond my classroom. I know that in my classroom they journeyed into books with their classmates through discussion and writing. I hope that they'll return to that feeling and those skills time and time again.
As a parent, I plan to continue talking to my daughter and son about books. Even books that might not be on my Next Read list. Even when they are old enough to read a book independently. I want to read those classics that I love with them, but I also want to experience a new adventure with them. For my own reading life, I plan to keep my pile of next read books on my bed stand. I plan to carve out time in my daily routine to read. I'll carry those stories to my students and to my daughter and son. I'll push those stories onto my friends, and ask my family to read them as well.
I hope that Penny Kittle takes her message to the many teachers across America. I hope she causes teachers to reflect on what a student truly needs and desires, rather than on what they think a student needs. I hope those teachers remember when their own reading life took off, and use their own book reading to share with their students. I pray that my students and children keep their joy of reading forever.